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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Common-place Curd Rice

A rapturous look spreads on my son’s face when I announce his evening snack menu as he returns home ravenously from school.
As you may know, my son is an ardent connoisseur of not-so-gourmet foods…Oh! You didn’t? Read on….
So what is this special treat that he’s waiting to devour?
It’s the routine, humble, mushy, mother-friendly, easy to prepare, stomach soother and filler,
Yours Truly Ubiquitously,
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Thayir Saadam a.k.a Curd Rice

Curd Rice, the intrinsic component of every meal in most South-Indian families, be it here in India or abroad. The vital finale to every meal. Ask any true-blooded Tam-Brahm, and he will vehemently agree that without downing a few mouthfuls of this meek fare his meal feels incomplete!
Surprisingly enough, I detested this agglomerated white mess during my childhood!
My horror at opening my lunch at school – the third compartment of my three-tiered ‘tiffin- box' to find it staring up at me along with sour whiff!!   
Oh! The injustice of having to suffer this ignominious dish which strongly underlined my ‘Madrasi*’ origins, while my friends gloriously devoured their smelly-yet-having-cult-status ‘Mooli-Parathas with…..ugghh….Shalgam Acchar’! My tears and protests rang loud, clear and consistent enough to ward away my mum from packing this quick-fix meal as my lunch for a long time to come! What an abhorrent little monster I must have been!
All the same, I distinctly remember that the same thayir saadam held enormous fascination and appeal to me when it was dispensed differently!

Travelling by train to the native village, deep in South India, was a two-day train journey that warranted carrying large baskets of rations to suffice the entire family's appetites for that period. 
And of course, curd rice smuggled its way along with the other goodies. The travel version of it, was prepared with extra care by mum. She added lots of creamy milk, a splash of curd, and some seasoning to the nicely mashed rice, tempering it with mustard seeds, finely chopped green chillies, ginger and curry leaves.

My disdain for thayir sadaam forgotten temporarily, I would eat it with much gusto out of a plastic plate along with crispy potato-chilly wafers, while the adults favored the accompaniment of fried salty-spicy, sun-dried chillies - mor-milagais with it!

Summer vacations spent in the native village home of my grandparents are some of my happiest childhood memories! The evening supper for all us grand-kids was a comparatively frugal one, as a respite to the womenfolk after their exertions in the kitchen through the day. For me, it was probably the most memorable meal of the day!
One of my many periammas (aunt-mom’s elder sisters) blended massive quantities of plain rice with copious amounts of thick curd, a little milk to reduce the sourness, and a pinch of salt to produce a large vessel full of curd rice. We kids sat in a semi-circle around my super-efficient periamma who would then dole out a generous dollop of the creamy rice with a spot of spicy sambhar/vetta-kozhumbu at its center onto the palm of each child, one by one. In the background we would hear Thatha (grandpa) fiddling with the old radio to listen to the evening news while simultaneously eavesdropping on gossip from the periammas and Paati (grandma)! This irresistible combination of food for the stomach and fodder for the brain was such that, one could hardly wait for the cycle to complete and his turn to come up again. In a matter of minutes the entire vessel would be empty, the large platoon of kids satiated with minimum fuss! Burrp…
Coming back to adulthood, my equation with curd rice turned considerably more congenial, post marriage when I took charge of the hitherto alien department of cooking in my new household. I discovered it to be one of the most simple and satiating meals with the accompaniment of a spicy mango pickle to come up with, especially when the fridge was under-stocked, patience and energy running on low reserve at the end of a trying day at work!  
Further admiration for the same boring meal, increased when I discovered that my colleagues at work showed a lot of interest in polishing off my hastily prepared and packed ‘Dahi-Bhath’ at lunch and pressed me to part with its recipe, including how to set curd from milk! 
I was incredulous at first at this piece of seeming ignorance! That people still lived an everyday life without home-made curd/dahi/yoghurt was news to me! I enthralled the ignoramuses with my culinary secrets and provided them with detailed scripts of the ‘complex’ recipe for preparing authentic South-Indian Curd Rice replete with garnishing et al. It also included the path-breaking revelations of ‘DIY curd-making at home manual’!

From being a loathsome filler, curd rice was turning to be something of a sublime star dish!
Especially considering its popular appearances in dinner buffets in its super-glam avatar with toppings of fresh and dry-fruits!

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With the advent of my children, I developed a grudging favor, bordering on respect for this humble chow!  
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The bowl of curd rice, that patiently awaited the hungry picky eaters, post a dinner party, or one that was thoughtfully dispensed before a party in anticipation of returning home hungry and cranky! The only meal I could safely feed and depend on, during our travels without worrying about tummy-upsets and also the only meal to provide succor to already upset ones! The meal that compensated for ill-prepared and badly turned out, over-spicy cookery experiments!
Yes, many a time has this thayir saadam or its lowly counterpart mor-saadam (made with mor or buttermilk instead of curd, when one is running short of curd) come to my rescue - this white knight with its spicy pickle armor!

It’s your lucky day folks, as I share my fail-safe recipe for this dish that is so 'motherly'
Comforting and Benevolent, Thayir Saadam’!
Actually on second thoughts, I realize many seriously-minded culinary writers will be distressed and take offense to my treading on their territory! So maybe, it still is your lucky day that I will not be sharing my personal recipe but instead be sharing equally worthy/worthier recipes!😜
(Yes…you guessed right! Too lazy to pen down!!)

Madrasi*- General addressal used for persons from South India. Factually pertaining to persons native to Madras, the erstwhile Chennai, also known as Tamilians. eg. S.Ramanujam, Sir C.V Raman, Abdul Kalam, Vishwanathan Anand, Sunder Picchai and many more.

Did you know?

Other synonyms for Curd rice or Yoghurt rice are: 

  • Thayir soru - In general parlay in Tamil Nadu
  • Bagalabath, Bahalabath, Mosaru-Anna – In Karnataka
  • Daddojanam, Dhadhiyonnam, Dahi AnnamIn Andhra Pradesh and also by Iyengars
It also called as ‘ Temple spiced curd rice’ as it is popularly offered as a naivedhyam to the Gods and later distributed as prasadam in Vaishnavite temples
  • Dahi Chawal – In North India
  • Dahi Bhath – In Maharashtra
Health Benefits of Curd Rice: Besides being a wholesome, cooling meal, the curds in curd rice contain useful bacteria that improve digestion and promote immunity. Curds provide an excellent source of Calcium for maintaining good bones and teeth, especially useful for lactose intolerant persons, good for healthy skin and hair and helpful in combating stress and anxiety.

I hope, I have sufficiently done my bit to promote this mundane, benign soul-food. Take my word for it...tuck into a bowlful of it, and watch as the creamy rice with a subtle tang fills you up and miraculously drives away the blues! 

And yeah Amma, I know you'll be smugly smiling when you read this! All this coming from that finicky li’l brat who once shunned this soul-food!

Have any interesting tales of your trysts with similar soul-foods? 
Do share, would love to hear!


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